bodice-ripper (1978), bodice-ripping (1979)

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue May 6 21:42:37 UTC 2014

The OED's definition is off, as is shown by Ben's quotation from 1978: 'a
sexually explicit romantic novel' (OED) is a "hot historical"; in a "bodice
ripper", the foreplay, so to speak, the bodice ripping, is described in
detail, but a veil of modesty is drawn over the fornication that follows.
The "hot historical", on the other hand....

20 years ago, or thereabouts, I was trying to put together a guide to
research in popular forms of fiction.  In looking into romance fiction, I
found that there were 2 monthlies devoted to romances, one published in
Brooklyn and the other in California -- Romantic Times and Affaire du
Coeur, as I recall.  Both believably claimed a circulation of appr.
100,000.  As far as I could find, not a single American library would admit
to subscribing to either.
I called the editorial office of Romantic Times to ask whether someone
researching romance fiction could use their office file.  Yes.  I was
living in Brooklyn at the time, so I went to visit myself.  I wasn't
allowed in, even though I was chaperoned by my wife.
But leaving that aside . . . . no library anywhere held a file of either?
Very strange.  I had no problem finding files in NYC of the detective story
fan magazines, for instance.  (I checked the RLIN files, and also the Union
List of Serials and its supplements.)


On Tue, May 6, 2014 at 9:59 AM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at> wrote:

> OED has "bodice-ripper" = 'a sexually explicit romantic novel' from
> Sept. 1979. Slightly earlier:
> ---
> Charitey Simmons, "Dizzying Passion Ruffles the Pages of 'Hot' Historical
> Novel"
> Chicago Tribune, Feb. 8, 1978, Section 2, p. 4, col. 1
> Publishers call them hot historicals as opposed to either the virginal
> variety Barbara Cartland writes or to the bodice rippers "because
> that's usually what happens to the heroines," Price [sc. Linda Price
> of Bantam Books] explained.
> ---
> And here's the verbal noun "bodice-ripping":
> ---
> Suzanne Dolezal, "Sizzling Formula for Selling Books"
> Boston Globe, Feb. 21, 1979, p. 59, col. 1
> [Barbara Alpert of Ballantine Books:] "The books are geared to women's
> sensitivities -- ideal love with a little bodice-ripping. You don't
> take them seriously."
> ---
> --bgz
> --
> Ben Zimmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

George A. Thompson
The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998..

The American Dialect Society -

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